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Law Would Punish Parents and Fans Who Disrespect Sports Officials

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The Short of It

A proposed law in Indiana would impose harsh penalties on belligerent parents and fans who harass sports officials at games.

The Lowdown

From the little league field to the professional stadium, Sen. Ron Alting feels spectators' behavior toward referees and other officials has grown too egregious.

"It's getting very aggressive out there. I won't say that officials are scared to death, but they're greatly concerned," he told the Tribune Star.

Two years ago, the Indiana High School Athletic Association instituted a measure requiring all officials to report incidents in which any fan, including parents, is ejected from a venue for unsportsmanlike behavior, and that seems to have quieted some would-be violent spectators; not enough that officials feel safe, though. So, Alting has proposed a new law that would seek to fine individuals who can't control themselves at games, and it may even send them to jail. And these penalties aren't just for show; we're talking about $10,000 in restitutions and up to a year in prison!

The inspiration behind the bill came from Alting's conversations with high school referees complaining about enraged parents who do more than just heckle; they go on the attack when they don't agree with a particular call. Shockingly, some officials need police escorts to leave games. Says one official, "I had parents F-bombing me from the stands, then follow me out to my car."

Parents behaving badly has even made it difficult to recruit qualified officials, according to the IHSAA. That's why this law is needed, say supporters. Apparently, the fact that assault is illegal is not enough to deter some spectators! They must understand if their excitement turns violent, they can be charged with a crime on par with battery of a police officer. In fact, according to Alting, this law is mostly about reminding folks to act respectfully.

"When I played ball, officials were treated like police officers. No one would dare disrespect them. You watch a game today, and you see how officials are treated with disrespect," he says.

Given that comment, it's not surprising that if this new law is enacted, an official doesn't have to be injured by an overzealous fan for it to be considered assault. Even touching a referee rudely or poking him could result in charges being filed.

The Upshot

About two dozen states have toughened regulations to ensure officials' safety at games, so clearly things are getting out of control out there on the playing field. I've personally seen parents go ballistic even at the little league level. It's as if their lives depend upon whether junior gets a goal!

It's too bad they don't stop to think about how their actions are affecting their child. Poor sportsmanship sets a very bad example for kids as to how to behave when things don't go their way. Imagine the impact on a child of seeing their parent violently attack someone who doesn't agree with them. Plus, I can't help but wonder if that's how someone acts in public, what do they do at home, when say, junior spills his milk? It's scary, and I applaud Indiana for confronting the issue head on.

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